Android Lollipop Nexus 7 factory reset restoring

Is it time to clear your smartphone? Maybe you want to sell it or give it away to someone. The smartest thing to do is wipe the device clean and get it back to factory settings. But did you know a traditional factory data reset won’t take care of the job 100%?

Much of your personal data will survive a wipe, but it will pretty much be hidden. Regardless, there are plenty of tools out there that would allow any new owner (or thief) to easily retrieve this information. In this post we show you how to really take care of the situation and make sure all your sensitive information is safe from sneaky tinkerers.

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Understanding how storage is handled

Surely, you have seen all these services and programs that promise to recover lost data. This is totally possible, and it’s because of the way most operating systems (including Android) handle storage.

No file is ever really gone when you hit the ‘delete’ button. It just becomes invisible to the user and marked as “free space”. Then it is left chilling in the background until the system needs the space again. New files then replace the older ones.

Why even do this? There are a few reasons why this method is convenient. For starters, truly deleting documents from a drive can take a toll on the hardware. Remember HDDs and even SSDs have an estimated lifespan, and after so many rewrites they wear out. By marking a file as “deleted” but not removing it completely, you reduce the amount of times modifications have to be made.

delete-sms-text-message Shutterstock

In addition, slower hardware really used to benefit from this. This is because it was much faster to mark a bunch of files as invisible, as opposed to actually deleting them. Storage is super fast these days, but it probably still helps a bit. Plus, this happens to be a life saver those times when you accidentally delete valuable data.

How to properly wipe an Android phone

There’s no direct way to really wipe a device all the way, but we can show you how to at least keep your important data safe. Let’s get started.

Encrypt your phone

If all your stuff is going to stay within your storage after a factory data reset, you should at least make sure no one can take advantage of it. Encrypting your device won’t stop the software from going through it’s usual deleting process, but any information retrieved from the device will be scrambled. People won’t be able to do a thing with it.

Simply go to the Settings app and select ‘Security’. From there you can scroll down and hit the “Encrypt phone” option. It’s super simple. But beware that steps may vary a bit depending on your phone. These steps are for stock android Marshmallow.

Once your phone is encrypted, simply perform a factory data reset the way you normally would.

Load the phone with trivial files

Still want to get rid of all that personal information stored deep within the guts of the phone? It will only be deleted once it is replaced with other files, so the solution is simple. Just load a bunch of files in there!

Of course, you want these to be files that don’t matter. Or at least stuff you wouldn’t mind others getting a hold of. These could be songs, movies, photos or anything. Just fill up your smartphone’s storage as much as possible. After that, perform another factory data reset and intruders will only be able to retrieve the dummy data.

phone-storage Shutterstock

Wrapping up

As we mentioned above, this is more a workaround than it is a solution. This is the closest we can get to a proper phone wipe… without going too crazy. How else would you keep your private information safe? Hit the comments and let us know.

Edgar Cervantes
Edgar Cervantes has over 5 years of experience in tech journalism. Exploring the latest gadgets and constantly studying the industry are part of is daily drive. Regardless of what he is working on, you can be sure he is always trying his best to bring you the best content. He will be dead honest and will bend to nothing.
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